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Hundreds Of St. Louis County Students Catch Coronavirus As School Begins

Students enrolled in a summer enrichment program at Jennings School District eat breakfast while social distancing in the gymnasium.
File photo / Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Socially distanced students in Jennings attend summer school in 2020. St. Louis County officials say hundreds of students have caught the coronavirus since school started in late August.

Hundreds of children in public and private schools in St. Louis County have tested positive for the coronavirus since the school year began, according to local health officials.

During the last week of August, 373 students and 56 staff members tested positive for the coronavirus, County Executive Sam Page said this week. More than 1,300 students and employees have had to quarantine after coming into contact with a person who has tested positive.

Doctors worry that kids, particularly those under 12 who are not yet eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, could pick up the virus at school and spread it to more vulnerable members of their families and friend groups.

Children are less likely than adults to get very sick from the coronavirus, but they can spread it to others. Doctors say they are more likely to catch and spread the delta variant circulating in the country than the original strain.

The number of new cases in kids age 10-14 has risen 44% in recent weeks, Page said.

The county has begun collecting the data from schools on new cases and isolations among students and staff, he said. Officials plan to release the numbers regularly.

The true count is likely much higher because not all schools have reported their data to the county and classes have only been in session for one week, Page said.

“These numbers reveal the level of transmission among children is much too high,” he said. “It’s crucial that parents and educators take charge to stop transmission of COVID in schools.”

Hospitals will soon see if the start of the school year leads to more patients of all ages being admitted, said Dr. Clay Dunagan, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

“Of course, the real danger is not just that kids will be infected, but that there will be transmission events within school, which has happened, as well as transmission events outside of school to family members, siblings and the like,” he said.

While serious illness due to the coronavirus in children and teens is rare, it’s not unheard of, he said.

Two dozen children under 18 are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the region’s hospitals, Dunagan said. Five kids are in the intensive care unit with serious complications.

Doctors say that everyone who can get the vaccine should do so to stop the virus from spreading. Health officials say routine testing also is vital to keeping the coronavirus in check.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.